run, janelle, run!

Sacrificing Fitness for Finances: Can We Find a Balance?

I spent nearly five years working from home as a professional web copywriter and project manager for an Internet marketing company. A true testament to my discipline and work ethic, I found that working from home worked really well for me. I was more efficient, often completing work tasks in half the time it would take me when at the office. Clients were happy, my boss was happy; I had the freedom to travel and spend weeks at a time with family in New York (because my work came with me)…

This work arrangement afforded me the time to fully indulge in the healthy habits I’d already established: physical fitness and a general, overall healthy lifestyle. I could go for an 11-miler in the morning, come back, shower, physically prepare a meal and actually sit down at a table to enjoy it without checking the clock and thinking about traffic.

I got the sleep I needed, I enjoyed my work, and I always felt energized….

I was in the best physical and mental shape of my life.

But sometimes, life happens.

work life balance

Fitness vs. Finances

When the door to my cushy WFH job closed, I found myself opening a new door into a working world filled with an hour-long commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic, cubicles, multiple staff meetings, ringing phones and loud office conversations. To further complicate things, I no longer had one job- I had three. 

In the struggle to hold on to an important part of what defined me, I found myself straining to get out of bed at 5 a.m. to go running. I’d then make a mad dash back to my house so that I could shower and squeeze in some work for Job #1 before leaving home for Job#2. After spending most of the day fighting to maintain focus, I’d rush home, barely putting my bags down before opening up the laptop to start in on the next batch of work for Job#3. If there was time leftover, I’d do additional work for Job #1.

If I was lucky, I’d maybe make it to bed by midnight before getting up and repeating this process a l l  o v e r  a g a i n.

There was no TV – no leisure writing – no real hobbies – no friends. There was simply no time.

The running, which had once energized me, was draining me. During soccer games, I actually found myself needing to sub out for breaks. I became frustrated at how slow and sluggish I felt, even after our runs were done. I felt tired all of the time; I had trouble focusing on or remembering things. My eating habits started to suffer. My coordination was off. My sleep was abysmal. And then it finally happened.

I tore my hamstring during one of our soccer games.

Falling Down

Being injured was, by far, more devastating than losing a job ever was. It took away the one thing that brought me joy and sanity: physical fitness. Sure, with running and soccer off of the table, I now had more time (hypothetically) to…sleep and work…just like any other normal person.

But I was miserable.

Mentally, I was wiped out. All I wanted to do was NOT look at a computer screen…NOT hear one of my five emails going off…

Without the ability to do any sort of physical activity or the hobbies I once had time for, I lost the one ‘break’ that I had afforded my body and mind. But with all of the ‘stuff’ I had been doing, the fitness activities that had once added something to my life now seemed like more of a burden. Maybe it was a sign that I just needed to put childish things away and grow up. After all, what 31-year-old plays for a co-ed soccer league AND an adult women’s soccer league AND goes running nearly every day before the sun has even come up? That’s a recipe for disaster, right?

Do we risk losing who we are as athletes when we enter into the working world?

All of this made me wonder – how much of ourselves do we really give up in order to pursue other things that aren’t necessarily fulfilling, but are simply necessary?

Running, soccer, and an overall physically active lifestyle are part of what defines who I am. There’s no greater feeling to me than when I’m competing on the soccer fields with my teams and playing well – or when I’ve just finished running a 10-mile, killer hill run at 6:30 min/mile pace. But facing the facts, there was no feasible way to continue living the way I had. Something would eventually have to get sacrificed; some part of my life would inevitably suffer.

It was quickly becoming obvious – I wasn’t the “Wonder Woman Multi-tasker” I thought I was.

Small Sacrifices Now: Bigger Rewards Later

I keep telling myself that the struggles I face today are just small, temporary sacrifices, compared to where I want to go eventually.

I keep reminding myself that other adults face similar situations every day. I am not unique.

Sometimes difficult decisions are only as difficult as we make them out to be.

Sometimes, rather than looking up at an obstacle and trying to get over it, we need, instead, to plough through it.

Sometimes the decisions we end up struggling with are the ones that end up getting decided for us.

One night, after the work stress, injuries and failing health from 2013 reached a boiling point, I sat down and had a hard conversation….with myself. In the end, I reviewed the personal and career goals that I had written down for myself earlier in the year. How was my current work situation helping me work towards achieving those goals? What price would I eventually pay?

When I arrived back in North Carolina after Christmas, I came back to another closed door; but the door hadn’t even shut all of the way before another one blew wide open. Rather than stare at the closed door, I breathed a sigh of relief, smiled and crossed over a new threshold.

Finding a Balance

We make time for the things that are important in our lives, but when you’re in a situation where your finances really have to dictate the direction you’re going in, it can be difficult to stick to a quality fitness routine. In my case, even when I did make the time to work out, I was often too exhausted to reap the benefits.

In the end, things wound up working out for the best, but sometimes, we have to make difficult decisions regarding a career in order to make our health a priority. That said, finding a balance between fitness and your finances is possible. My advice?

  • Physically write down your personal, professional and physical goals, and keep it somewhere visible to only you.
  • Assess your financial needs versus wants, and evaluate the ways in which your current career and/or lifestyle is helping (or hindering) you from reaching your goals.
  • Evaluate your level of effort in each of those areas of your life.
  • Turn to friends and family as a source of encouragement and support.
  • Evaluate what is or isn’t working. Embrace change, & adapt as necessary in order to grow.

See what you’re doing wrong, laugh at it, change and do better. – Spencer Johnson

2 thoughts on “Sacrificing Fitness for Finances: Can We Find a Balance?

  1. Ryan Stephens

    Love this post, Janelle! It’s comforting knowing that there are others trying, often desperately, to “fit it all in.” It’s true that we make time for the things that are most important to us, but as you’ve so articulately alluded to here: we also have dreams that we’re willing to sacrifice for — at least in the short term and provided that it doesn’t adversely affect every other aspect of our lives.

    As a marketing guy for a start up, I feel like I work all.the.time. When do I get to slow down and write a blog post? Pay attention to my wife? Drink a beer with friends? Is it worth it? Will it be?

    We need more companies like 37 signals who understand the value of 40-hour work weeks and remote work. Put simply, happy, well-balanced employees typically do good work. Exhausted and resentful employees are on a fast track to burn out. If only we could rid the world of the workaholic as a badge of honor mentality. As the 37 signals says, “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up.”

    Best of luck to you in 2014!

  2. Janelle Vadnais Post author

    Exactly, Ryan. It’s refreshing to connect with someone out there who gets it. Naturally a workaholic, I truly believed that I could do it all…until I realized that I couldn’t. It makes me wonder – is there really such a thing as being a “great multi-tasker”? It seems that something always falls to the wayside when you try to split yourself into a dozen pieces. Finding balance sounds great in theory, but in reality- it continues to be a struggle for so many of us!

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